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The Shepard Cane

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My girlfriend and I have this special spot. This nice little place that serves up food, drinks, and amateur stage performances. They named it the Stage Harbor Dinner Theater. It used to be a loading dock but what was once a place for blue-collar grunt workers is now a quaint setting to showcase local talent. Rachel and I first laid eyes on each other there and have made it an unspoken rule that we return at least once a month. We love the open mic nights. Our small-town doesn’t seem to have many serious artists and yet we have one person with dreams far larger than those of its simple residence. Jeffrey Buttfellows.

He aspires more than anything to become a comedian. For years, we have watched in discomfort as Jeffrey leaps out from the red curtains all smiles and self-assurance. He joyously grabs the microphone and proceeds to tell the worst jokes imaginable. His intentions are so sincere, his confidence so undeserved, and the setups so horribly timed, that even laughing out of politeness is impossible. Most of the audience has become exasperated at this point. Whenever his rusted Ford pickup truck can be seen in the parking lot the dinner theater loses business.

His shows always end the same fashion: whenever he’s getting overly heckled and hissed by the audience, this old fashioned vaudevillian shepherd’s cane reaches out from the side curtain and pulls him away by the neck. The audience usually gives this shepherd’s crook lavish applause as soon as it hooks him. That stick has undoubtedly saved Jeffrey and his spectators from further humiliation on countless occasions. I liked Jeff though. A true artist. With absolutely zero support he’s able to go out there and shoot for his dream.

Even his own lack of improvement doesn’t discourage him. I believe if all "Joes" had his kind of ambition we’d be a world brimming with genius. My admiration changed a few months ago when Rachel and I were celebrating our three year anniversary. We bought a bottle of champagne and waited for another lousy attempt by our persistent stand-up. Rachel had on a screaming lemon dress that may have been a little too revealing for her plump form. Perhaps it was that dress that had garnered Jeffrey’s attention that night. For that evening a couple of drunk frats from the city were at the club. I suppose they had even less patience then us locals.

They would interrupt Jeff with, “This guy sucks giant hippopotamus balls!” other times they’d simply scream, “NEXT!” One even threw a bottle at his head. Talented comics can handle hecklers with devastatingly vicious comebacks, but as you know Jeff was not a talented comic. Realizing his material was unfit for these city boys he looked around for something he could make funny. He saw it. Rachel. All 4’11 and 220 pounds of her. He started making fun of her size. She was silent and chuckled quietly with poorly disguised hurt on her face while the rest of the audience roared with laughter. This went on for twenty agonizing minutes as if he’d been planning it in his head all these years. Eventually he exhausted himself of fat jokes and moved onto more neutral subjects which left his listeners hot and bothered.

Once more the shepherd cane materialized behind the curtain and relieved him. Though she pleaded with me not to confront anyone I talked to the stage manager backstage. He had his back turned holding the shepherd’s cane. As he turned to face me, the first thing I detected from his face was that he was blind. His eyes lacked that glint of focus. 

“Hey listen pal,” I began, undeterred by his handicap, “Jeff went too far tonight when he made fun of my girl. It was completely uncalled for and I didn’t like it.” The stage manager raised his hand and lowered his head in respect, “Sir, I understand completely, but that was first time that I ever heard such laughter coming from that kid. And I mean ever! I’ll talk to him for you. Though you gotta admit the guy was due. Let’s just hope the confidence boost can help him find other material.” But he didn’t find other material.

Every night when Rachel and I came to visit, he’d direct the spotlight on her and could dish out jokes and wisecracks without repeating himself for over half an hour. He called her, “whale cunt,” since he never asked her name and never needed to since she was more of an entity of fatness to him. His growing fan base would slap their thighs and tickle their ribs amidst the satisfied howls.

Even I have to admit his normally dull act became diabolically clever. Though I certainly did not find it funny in the least which is why I will not repeat his jokes here. Afterwards Rachel would be quietly depressed yet would insist we return week after week. As if she saw it as a hurtle, to not allow this man to take away a location she associated with hope and happiness. I begged the stage manager to use the shepherd's cane once his abuse was starting to begin, but he wouldn’t do anything. It seemed years of yanking Jeffrey from his beloved spotlight had simply softened the blind man’s heart too much to punish him. 

Finally Rachel said she’d do something. She decided to call Buttfellows to see if she could persuade him to not make fun of her weight as it was a sensitive subject to her and she was self-conscious about it. She had left a voicemail. The next night Buttfellows played the voicemail for the audience while pausing and mimicking her voice. Then he gave a violent recant that had everyone in stitches. He grabbed her drink and hocked up a loogie in it much to everyone’s delight.

In that moment the idea for revenge that had been growing in my brain finally blossomed. I had a plan to punish not only Jeffrey for obsessively spitting out fat jokes but also the blind stage manager for his misguided sympathy. It was all so foolproof. The shepherd’s cane was the key. I grabbed an old farmer’s scythe at an antique store and sharpened it until paper could be sliced from its own weight when rested upon it’s blade. I then smoothed its handle with sandpaper until it felt just like the shepherd’s cane. Same wooden handle, same weight, same everything save for the steel crescent moon on it’s head.

I put a bag over the blade so no one at the restaurant would be suspicious. When I peered inside the stage manager’s office I saw the shepherd’s cane hanging on the wall by a nail. The stage manager himself sat on a chair looking directly at me, but he had some headphones on and was tapping his foot to the music.

I coughed. No reaction. I lumbered in noisily to see if he’d react. I put my face close to his. I could hear the soundtrack to West Side Story. Perfect. I made the switch. Jeffrey Buttfellows was on in fifteen minutes. Ten minutes later I met up with Rachel. She gave a weak smile when she saw me. I thought witnessing tonight’s show might churn her stomach at first, but perhaps later, maybe fifty years from now, when we’re an old couple, I can say, “Remember Buttfellows? That awful lout who got his head chopped off for being a failure as a comedian? I did that.” 

Rachel would smile and say, “Deep down I always knew.” Then she’d squeeze my hand. That would be wonderful. I noted the scar on her wrist and decided to buy a bottle of wine to lighten her mood and my nerves. For tonight was going to be one to remember. I noted that we’d probably have to take the bottle home, since they were bound to close down the restaurant for about a week or so after tonight. Jeffrey headed down the stage and lifted the microphone up to his face. “What’s up folks? Miss me? I’m sure you did, didn’t you my buxom lady?” The spotlight radiated our table. Rachel looked down and braced herself for the coming onslaught of verbal lashes. That night, his bits about her were merciless. He had sketches, impressions, fake stories about how her parents tried to drown her for her hideousness.

How it was her Medusa-like ugliness that had actually struck the stage manager blind. I could scarcely hear the manager himself chuckle at that one from behind the curtain. I poured another glass and pulled it towards my grimaced lips. It went on for hours like that until finally he had to change to one of his less popular themes. Throughout all this suspense I was on my third bottle and started feeling quite a bit drunk off the wine as well as my thoughts of fore-coming revenge. 

The heckling started small since the audience truly wanted to give him a chance with other topics. After all it was his genius who had had them laughing for hours at the same subject. Yet before they knew it, he dished out some unforgivably godawful material that had them moaning their unavoidable disapproval. He started stuttering and repeating the punchline while tapping the microphone.

“Is this thing on?” It was so pathetic. Even Rachel begun booing which was perfect. She deserved to have a hand in his death. Then, on the side curtain. There it was. Lurking its way outside the curtain. Hovering it’s shiny blade reflected by the stage lights. It was like watching the moon making its elliptical trajectories across the sky. Slowly moving towards the unsuspecting buffoon. Not slow enough for someone to notice and warn him. Oh no. It was such a bizarre happenstance no one could figure it out in time. The only reaction came from the patient and expecting murderer.

I smirked and raised my wine glass to the comedic failure. I recall his eyes actually reaching mine as the crescent blade curved its way around his neck. With an overly ambitious tug, it made it’s way through. The blade swiftly disappeared behind the curtain. The Stage Manager must be confused by now. Jeffrey stood there with the microphone by his lips. We could no longer hear his voice. All we could hear was his gurgling. Blood coming from his neck reddening his collar and his shirt. Then his head slipped off with a thud. It rolled off the stage and onto a family’s table. They screamed. His body still stood on the stage, his microphone held up to the stump of his neck which erupted with scarlet liquid.

After a couple spurts his body went limp and fell backwards. His legs kicking a little. The crowd was hushed. “Don’t worry everyone! I’m a medical student,” I drunkenly announced amidst the stunned silence. I stumbled onto the stage and got down to my knees as I checked the corpse’s wrist. I spoke into the microphone still in the dead Jeffrey’s hand, “It’s too late, he’s dead.” Perhaps out of fear and disbelief over what they had just seen. The audience actually laughed. A few were still gaping however, but eventually they started laughing too. Maybe they thought it was a magic trick? I suppose I got a high off of the initial laughter.

“He’ll never get a-head with that sort of material right?” Silence. Too soon I guessed. “That really sucked!” shouted someone from the back. Most of them started booing. I noticed a pair of female twins in their teens from the family table were gazing at Jeffrey’s pale face. His mouth was open and his left cheek was caked in gravy.

His eyes darted around in confusion until they finally rolled in the back of his head. The twins shrieked again. “Whats-a-matter?” I grabbed the microphone from Jeff’s dead fingers and stood up, “Oh come on girls! You should know at your age that a little head can be a good thing!” The audience continued to groan, the father threw an apple at me. Even Rachel shook her head in disappointment from that last one.

Suddenly, I felt something sharp encircle my neck. My blood went cold for I knew what was next. 

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